A transgender man was shot to death by police in McLean, Va., in July, and his family is saying there was no justification for the killing.
Jasper Aaron Lynch, 26, was having a mental health crisis when police were called to his home the evening of July 7, The Washington Post reports. Lynch, who went by Aaron, lived with his sister and parents in McLean, a D.C. suburb. Only his sister was there with him at the time.
He was "behaving erratically" and "holding a large decorative tribal mask made of wood in one hand and a wine bottle in the other" when officers arrived and encountered him in the house's foyer, the Post notes. He threw the mask at one of the cops, then advanced toward the others with the bottle raised as if he would attempt to use it as a weapon, as shown on body-cam video released this month.
After the police fired Tasers at him with no result, one officer, Edward George, shot Lynch four times, killing him. George is on reduced duty, and the incident is under investigation, McLean Police Chief Kevin Davis said.
"Our officers were confronted with a very chaotic and dangerous situation," Davis said at a press conference, according to the Post. "I want to be careful not to offer any assessments or any opinions. But I think it's clear to see from the video that that was a very active and chaotic incident."
When the police arrived, it was the second time they had been called to the Lynch home that evening. They had a mental health counselor with them during the first visit but could not find Lynch then. There was no counselor with them the second time.
Lynch's parents, Patrick and Kathy Lynch, released a statement to local media saying the use of deadly force was not necessary. "Our son, Aaron, was experiencing a severe mental health crisis on July 7," they said. "He was scared and asked for both of the 911 calls that were made that day. We believe that the three police officers who answered the second 911 call could have, and should have, handled this far differently. To respond to Aaron's mental health crisis by shooting him at all, let alone multiple times, cannot be justified. We recognize that, at times, police officers face grave and unknown dangers in the line of duty, but that was not the case for that call at our home regarding our son. Aaron was about 5' 6", slightly built, and holding just a bottle and a decorative mask. As parents, we mourn the heartbreaking loss of our son and are left with only memories and regret. Had we known there was any possibility that the police responding to the second 911 call would use lethal force against Aaron during a mental health crisis, we would not have involved them until a mental health counselor could be present, as was the case for the response to the first 911 call. We hope our efforts to find out more about this incident will, in the future, help families in similar situations avoid such a tragic outcome."
The fact that Lynch was transgender has only recently been publicized. He is one of 26 trans Americans known to have died by violence this year; many more such deaths undoubtedly go unreported or misreported. Trans people are at a higher risk of police violence or other mistreatment by law enforcement than their cisgender LGBQ+ counterparts, the Human Rights Campaign notes.
"At 26, Aaron had his whole life in front of him," Tori Cooper, HRC's director of community engagement for its Transgender Justice Initiative, said in a press release. "My thoughts and prayers are with Aaron's loved ones. Aaron's death is a tragic result of our system's ineffectiveness in caring for people who are struggling mentally and emotionally. People, especially those of multiple marginalized identities, suffer every day as a result. His life did not have to end like this. We demand more focus and funding on mental health care in our country, including the addition of mental health counselors to respond to certain critical situations. No family should have to bear this pain."